Star Trek Video Examples

Gender Equality and Stereotypes

The Cage

The Cage Title Credit

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Where No Man Has Gone Before Image

Mudd's Women

Mudd's Women

The Enemy Within

The Enemy Within

Star Trek's Representation of Women
Video Clip

Managing a Starship Apparently is Not All that Time Consuming Leaving Plenty of Time for Extracurricular Activities

Captain Kirk with Girl in His Arms

Star Trek's Portrayal of Men Via Captain Kirk
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Star Trek, Equality and Diversity

The Pilot Episode The Cage

Roddenberry's initial story outline for The Cage had nothing to do with infinite diversity, equality, and his later espoused humanist philosophy. In The Cage, Roddenberry's initial concept of the future was populated with white men and women who were represented as cliched stereotypes. All of the concepts from the initial story outlines followed through to what ultimately was produced for the first pilot episode. The only aspect of the original story outline that was removed was the opening scene due to the time constraints of an hour television format which involved the introduction of the main characters during a transfer of personnel at a Starbase. The descriptions of these characters and their personalities in the original opening scene; however, did remain in the final produced product and were inundated with stereotypical generalizations about various groups of people.

Jose Tyler, the ship's navigator, was described as being descended from a "Boston astronomer father and a Brazilian mother" who "inherited his father's mathematical abilities but also inherited his mother's Latin temperament." [1] In addition Jose Tyler, "is young enough to be painfully aware of the historical repute of Latins as lovers-and is in danger of failing this challenge on a cosmic scale." [2]

Apparently according to Roddenberry in his description of Jose Tyler it is assumed that the mathematical i.e. rational logical side comes from his American white father, but his Latin side that comes from his Brazilian mother has a specific passionate unpredictable temperament which is insinuated all Latins share. Furthermore, the assumption that naturally, since Jose is part Latin, one of his consuming main priorities in life is to be successful as a Latin lover.

This description of Jose Tyler would undoubtedly be offensive to many Hispanics; however, Roddenberry's characterizations of women were more disparaging and even men did not come away unscathed by narrow-minded generalizations.

Ironically, throughout Roddenberry's career as the "Creator" of Star Trek he was praised for his forward thinking act of casting a woman as the Executive Officer in the pilot episode The Cage. In reality, the deciding factors in this decision were far from visionary forward thinking aspirations.

Firstly, the character Number One was created by Roddenberry to employ his mistress Majel Barrett, As Majel Barrett recalled about her role as Number One, "I had wanted the role so badly, and it was everything that I'd wished for...I mean, Gene wrote it for me, for God's sake." [3] Secondly, the descriptions of Number One and the other main characters in the story outline for the pilot episode The Cage were far from enlightened.

The Executive Officer, Number One, was described as "An extraordinarily efficient ship's officer, she is almost glacier-like in her imperturbability and precision. We'll wonder how much female exists under that icy facade" and Yeoman "J.M. Colt, about twenty, has a strip-queen figure which the knit uniform only emphasizes." [4]

The rest of The Cage was an episode largely structured by stereotypical male fantasies. Vina the primary character on Talos attempts to seduce Captain April who later was renamed Captain Pike to be her mate by becoming the helpless damsel in distress, the seductive exotic dancer and the wholesome good wife. Roddenberry's initial description of the psychological dilemma Captain April/Pike faced was "Imagination is superior to real life, there is no flesh and blood to be hurt; he can even relax and delight in those secret evil things which lurk in the back of everyman's mind" and "isn't that the male dream image of a woman, one who cannot resist." [5]

Women

With regard to women, enduring themes of women portrayed as sex objects, emotional sycophants, or stolid ice queens hiding their "feminine" emotional side occurred too many times to count throughout the seventy-nine episodes.

In the episode Where No Man Has Gone Before the stolid ice queen theme continues. Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell makes a snide comment calling Dr. Elizabeth Dehner "A walking freezer unit" and later Dr. Dehner states, "Women professionals do tend to overcompensate." [6]

In the episode Mudd's Women, "which was a rewrite version of Roddenberry's "The Women," [7] three women are portrayed as seductresses only concerned with landing a man to marry for financial support.

In the episode The Enemy Within Captain Kirk through a transporter accident is split into two seperate people, one good, the other evil. The evil Kirk attempts to sexually assault Yeoman Rand. At the end of the episode Spock comments to Yeoman Rand, "The imposter had some interesting qualities wouldn't you say, Yeoman?" [8] Spock then raises his eyebrow with a minimal smirk on his face and looks at Yeoman Rand with a playful twinkle in his eyes. Yeoman Rand's eyes widen as if in some kind of agreement but also turned away with a look of annoyance with Spock. This scene insinuated that attempted sexual assault gives the perpetrator interesting qualities and even worse it insinuated that a woman would think that an attempted violent act committed against her would imbue someone with interesting qualities she would find attractive.

Men

Men fared no better when it came to stereotypical generalizations. Men were continually portrayed as sex obsessed that overrode their ability to be professional. Throughout the seventy-nine episodes Captain Kirk cannot seem to fend off sexual temptation and ends up having trysts with women across the cosmos. Some examples include What are Little Girls Made Of, Shore Leave, City on the Edge of Forever, The Paradise Syndrome, Requiem for Methuselah, Elaan of Troyius, and The Mark of Gideon to mention just a few.

Racial Equality

The portrayals of racial equality were usually not realized successfully in Star Trek as well with the exception of one notable episode entitled Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Even though Roddenberry and Star Trek are credited and praised for placing minorities in the production, as if both were trail blazing entities who defied conventional television industry approaches, they really were not. The trend of casting minorities in more positive varied roles in television productions was established in 1965 when "television history was made when white actor Robert Culp and black actor Bill Cosby costarred as American intelligence agents in the hit action series I Spy." [9]

As far as Star Trek is concerned, the true credit lies at NBC and the network executives in promoting the addition of various races within productions affiliated with their network. A companywide letter dated August 19, 1966 from NBC Mort Werner to all producers including Gene Roddenberry spelled out corporate policy in what was expected of producers in the area of hiring minorities for their television programs. Mort Werner stated,

"NBC's employment policy has long been dictated that there can be no discrimination because of race, creed, religion, or national origin and this applies to all our operations. In addition, since we are mindful of our vast audience and the extent to which television influences taste and attitudes, we are not only ancious [sic] but determined that members of minority groups be treated in a manner consistent with their role in our society. While this applies to all racial minorities, obviously the principle reference is to the casting and depiction of Negroes. Our purpose is to assure that in our medium, and within the permissive framework of dramatic license, we present a reasonable reflection of contemporary society." [10]

Minorities, Sulu and Uhura

In an analysis of a sampling of Star Trek episodes Daniel Bernardi asserted that "Star Trek's liberal-humanist project is exceedingly inconsistent and at times disturbingly contradictory, often participating in and facilitating racist practice in attempting to imagine what Gene Roddenberry called "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." [11] This was a consistent trend throughout Star Trek and the two minority cast members were not pleased with the level of participation they were afforded within Star Trek.

George Takei in his recollection of his years on Star Trek playing Sulu said, "I was proud to be a part of it. But I wanted to be prouder; I wanted Sulu to be doing more. My ship may have been moving steady at warp three, but I wanted to do more than merely announce that fact." [12]

Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura was on most occasions portrayed no more than a 23rd century telephone switchboard operator and she recalled,

"It got to the point where I felt like somebody must be going through the scripts and just slashing every time they see the name "Uhura" above a line of dialogue. Finally, after a particularly brutal series of cuts and an episode where a guest actress was brought in to visit a planet while Uhura stayed at her post doing nothing for an hour, I went to Gene and complained. "Why is this happening?" I ask him. And Gene does his best to explain his point of view, and he's talking about staying true to the show, but by now I'm really angry and it actually gets to the point where I say to him, "That's it, I quit. I'm leaving." [13]

What kept Nichelle Nichols from leaving Star Trek was not due to Roddenberry's reassuring words, but through a chance encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a NAACP event. Dr. King convinced Nichols to stay by saying, "Don't you know that the world, for the first time, is beginning to see us as equals? What you are doing is very, very important, and I'd hate to see you just walk away from such a noble task." [14]

Racial epithets also were found within Star Trek only they were given a 23rd century spin. Instead of making discriminatory disparaging remarks about the various races on Earth the racial epithets were merely transferred to alien species. Even though Spock was a main character and part of the male white trio where most of Star Trek's emphasis rested, Spock was not spared racial insults.

In the episode Day of the Dove, Scotty lashed out at Spock calling him "you green-blooded half-breed" [15] and in the episode This Side of Paradise Kirk screams to Spock "Rotten! Like the rest of your subhuman race!" [16] These disparaging racial remarks were conveniently justified under the guise of an unusual mind altering circumstance, but nevertheless the comments were made but added nothing relevant to the story line.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield: A Shining Moment in Star Trek

A shining example of an enlightened point of view with regard to race relations was the episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield that was, "a parable about two races on an alien planet, each half black and half white who annihilate each other in an increasingly violent struggle between opression and revolution." [17]

This particular episode was derived from a story concept entitled Portrait in Black and White written by Barry Trivers in 1966. The original story treatment in Portrait in Black and White was exceedingly daring and its content would be considered outrightly controversial even by today's standards.

The story of Portrait in Black and White was about a parallel world that had reached the development stage of Earth's 19th century and was embroiled in their own Civil War, only the tables were turned, and it was blacks who were the slave owners and whites as the slaves.

Many reservations about this story outline were voiced by the production team on Star Trek and NBC executives.

Script Consultant Dorothy Fontana felt,
"Much of the script is (a) dull, (b) platitudinous, (c) preachy and/or offensive. This piece will have to be totally overhauled...restructured, rewritten. You know what we had to go through the last time on a piece Barry wrote. With this one...I strongly feel that you will have to completely redo the final draft Barry turns in if you are going to have any chance at all of getting NBC to even consider it. This is a delicate and highly touchy subject with them...especially with Stan." [18]

Associate Producer Robert Justman's thoughts were,
"I would suggest that this present draft be submitted to NBC immediately prior to ordering any script. I am afraid that this allegorical treatment will get resentment from all sides if it is ever shown on the air." [19]

Roddenberry's response to Justman was,
"if improperly handled, could bring forth both the white and black power advocates down on us with a vengeance. On the other hand, we could be in trouble with someone on any dynamic theme, i.e. union-labor, peace-war, utopian-individuality, etc." and if handled intelligently, and it is our duty as producers to see that it is handled intelligently, can be highly provocative, entertaining, and revealing exercise in dramatic truths, making points via its sf approach that never could be made in a non-sf approach." [20]

Roddenberry in this instance was keenly aware of the highly offensive nature of this piece; however, his fighting spirit overrode good judgment in taste and sensitivity especially with regard to how blacks might feel watching an episode with this content.

Stan Robertson, the only black NBC executive at the time, agreed with Fontana and Justman and informed Roddenberry of NBC's decision regarding Portrait in Black in White. Robertson stated, "Per our conversation of today and yesterday, this is to confirm that, in its present form, the above story outline is unacceptable. We believe that this story does not fit into the STAR TREK concept. However, we would be delighted to re-evaluate it at a later date if re-submitted in a different form." [21]

The window of opportunity left open by the NBC network eventually resulted three years later in the episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. The credit for making Let That Be Your Last Battlefield a memorable poignant allegory about racial conflict was Writer and Producer Gene Coon.

Overall, even with minorities casted as regulars and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield as one shining example of forward thinking content among a few others that can be mostly credited to others, does not negate the less than stellar examples strewn throughout Star Trek nor does it establish Roddenberry or Star Trek as truly enlightened or visionary with regard to equality and diversity.

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Footnotes


 

Equality, Diversity and Stereotypes

Sulu and Uhura

Star Trek's Sulu and Uhura

Day of the Dove

Day of the Dove Title Credit

This Side of Paradise

This Side of Paradise Television Listing

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Star Trek's Representation of Equality and Diversity
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